Followers of my blog know I’m a big fan of hard-driving, guitar-heavy rock, so it will come as no surprise that I love the music of UK band These Wicked Rivers. This four-piece plays down and dirty blues-infused rock’n’roll that sounds like they’re from Alabama or Mississippi, rather than Derby, England (no disparagement intended against Derby, of course). Their melodic, riff-heavy music is incredibly exhilarating and dynamic, kicking you squarely in the ass! Making all this awesome noise are John Hartwell (lead vocals, guitar), Arran Day (guitar), Jon Hallam (bass) and Dan Southall (drums).
In 2015 they released an excellent debut EP The Enemy, and follow up with their fantastic album II, which dropped at the end of April (and I’m finally getting around to reviewing at long last). With seven tracks, it’s longer than a typical EP and shorter than the usual album. But whatever category it’s placed in, this much is clear: the six major tracks are all heavyweights in terms of both quality (amazing) and quantity (all run four to six minutes in length), so I’d say it qualifies as an album.
These Wicked Rivers establish right off the bat what they’re all about with the aptly-titled intro track “Wicked River Blues,” then launch into “Stones Painted Gold.” Guitars blazing, they add a bit of funky bass to the bluesy mix as John snarls the searing lyrics that speak to a woman who’s done him wrong: “You turn it around, you know it’s never your fault. God, your such a martyr. Now you burn to the ground anyone in your way.” Arran’s distorted guitar solo in the bridge is fearsome! Without skipping a beat, “That Girl” arrives with a barrage of shredded, squealing guitars, throbbing bass, and muscular drums hammering out a hard-driving beat that had me banging my head and gyrating in my chair. These guys know how to rock!
They slow things down with the magnificent rock ballad “When the War is Won.” All the elements of this six minute long track come together to create an epic song that’s absolute perfection, and it’s my favorite on the EP. The complex, layered guitar work is positively mind-blowing, with gorgeous riffs and wailing solos that raise goosebumps with every listen. John passionately sings of finding his way back from a dark place in his mind: “I look around and know I’m free. I hear my voice, I say I wouldn’t do it any other way. I can save my life. Say the truth in their lies. I can walk with my head held high, now the war, now the war is won.”
The terrific, bluesy “Testify” has a Pearl Jam vibe, and John’s vocals even sound a bit like Eddie Vedder. Once again, the guys show off their exceptional musicianship, with killer riffs, Jon’s speaker-blowing bass and Dan’s aggressive percussion. I love the lyric “She tastes like sugar, and goes down like honey.” “Put Me on Trial (For Who I Am)” delivers more face-melting rock’n’roll goodness, courtesy of scorching hot riffs, crushing heavy bass and thunderous drums.
Last but certainly not least is the anthemic “Don’t Pray For Me,” another monumental track with jaw-dropping instrumentals. The song opens with a gospel-like organ solo, then the band’s signature intricate guitars, heavy bass and power drums take over. The lyrics address the complexities and contradictions inherent in many of us – we have both good and bad elements in our character: “I’ve been a loser, I’ve been a cruiser, I’ve been lost and I’ve been found. I’ve been a user, I’ve been a bruiser. I’ve been up and I’ve been down. And I’ve been a taker, I’ve been a faker. I’ve been a liar and a cheat./ I’ve been every man in between./ Don’t you pray now. Don’t you pray for me. Don’t judge a man by only what you see.”
II is a brilliant album that firmly establishes These Wicked Rivers as one of the finest rock’n’roll bands in the UK. These guys are phenomenal musicians, and need more exposure so that more people will discover them and their awesome music. I urge my readers to support the band by following them on their social media and downloading/purchasing their music: